The Nepal earthquake of April 25 caused untold devastation flattening entire villages and killing more than 8,000 people. Historic buildings were reduced to a pile of rubble. It is thought that at least 2.8 million people have been displaced – either because their houses have been destroyed or because they are too afraid of aftershocks to remain at home.
An ABC reporter, who experienced the tremors, described the terror of standing on ground that was shaking violently. She described the sense of panic among the people in Kathmandu as they fled their homes in fear.
We think of our homes as places of warmth and security. They are meant to be safe places where we are loved and affirmed. Displacement is traumatic. To have the symbol of belonging crumble before our eyes is to be cast adrift, not knowing where to go or which way to turn.
People who are suicidal have often experienced loss: the loss of relationships, the loss of meaning, the loss of connection, the loss of belonging, the loss of hope. They no longer feel protected and often have to contend with negative and hostile thoughts. They no longer feel secure within their own bodies.
Leah Dryden, artist and mother of two, who struggles with mental ill-health, said in an article lamenting the inadequacy of mental health services, “It is just this constant voice saying ‘Kill yourself, hurt yourself’, and I wanted to just take off, to just leave, it was the only physical response I could have, because the next step was to physically hurt myself.” What Leah is saying is that there are moments in your life when the foundation of your being is shaken and you’re fearful of what the outcome will be.
The challenge in supporting someone who has suicidal thoughts is to ensure their safety, to provide a secure environment and to work towards helping them find their way home. Our son Adam said, “I wish my life could be what it was before.” Maybe that’s not possible. Maybe life will look different. Maybe it will mean redefining priorities. Maybe it will mean acknowledging the need for ongoing support.
Suicide prevention is about restoring or rebuilding or simply helping to get rid of the rubble so that life can go on. It is about accepting and affirming the person in their brokenness. It is working cooperatively with health professionals to create an effective and workable care plan. It is offering assistance in managing the practicalities of daily life. It is helping the person with suicidal thoughts to overcome feelings of fear and uncertainty and rediscover meaning and purpose. It is being aware that a long term commitment may be required to see the rebuilding or recovery process through.